“Burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men. . . . Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”

The Man Who Was Thursday

Last December, hackers stole the credit card numbers and personal information of around 110 million Target customers; an email from the corporation informed me that I am probably among them. My bank automatically reissued my debit card, and Target Corporation has preemptively paid for one year of credit monitoring.

While I’m not too concerned about my status as victim, I did listen with extra interest to an episode of the podcast Planet Money about the credit card black market. FBI agent Keith Mularski took the podcast hosts on a personal tour of a black market credit card site—think Ebay for criminal credit hackers.

Not just anyone can bid on stolen credit card data. Mularski was only able to access the site after he set up an undercover identity as a spammer. He then had to find two current users of the site who could vouch for him, that is, assure the other users that he was an actual criminal rather than someone trying to nab them.

Once in the system, one encounters the problem with a virtual room full of criminals: You can’t trust anyone. Sure,  Matrix001  may claim that he has 50 active card numbers for sale, but how is one to know whether he will deliver the goods? Credit card black market sites deal with this predicament the same way Ebay and Amazon do, through ratings and reviews. No scammer wants to be scammed.

The most paradoxical step of setting up an account on a black market is the requirement that the user agree to the site’s terms and conditions. These are basically a mirror image of the type of terms and conditions one finds on a legitimate business’s website. The terms forbid use of the site for law enforcement; in other words, assenting to the terms and conditions is an attempt to legally bind the user from using the site for any legal purpose.

In the same vein, a fascinating article in Sunday’s New York Times tells the story of Ross Ulbricht, who has been charged with masterminding Silk Road, the massive online black marketplace for illegal drugs. Running the site under the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts (after the character from The Princess Bride), Utrecht allegedly created a secure and anonymous way to sell drugs online, similar to the online credit card black market. As his enterprise grew rapidly, he had to go to great lengths to protect it. When he thought that a handful of users had double-crossed him, he tried to have them killed. After receiving word that one of the hits he ordered had been completed, he regretfully wrote back, “I just wish more people had some integrity.”

No matter how many artists and academicians may claim that we live in a post-morality world, moral questions focus into astonishing clarity when one finds oneself in the role of victim. While the man on the street may hesitate to call a sin a sin, that hesitation will vanish the moment he is sinned against.

Articles by Betsy Childs

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